Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Secret Paris

There are few things lovelier than discovering a side to a city you never knew existed. I call it the mille-feuille effect. You tap away the top layer and then realise there's another 20 just-as-luscious layers hiding beneath it.

It's even lovelier when those lower layers are discoveries you don't expect. Stumbling across a secret place or a little-known destination can really enrich a city and make a trip there truly memorable.

I'm often asked for unusual places to visit, and I love hearing suggestions from others in return. So I thought I'd do a little travel triptych of the top three international cities, Paris, London and New York, and the secret (or semi-secret) places that I love to visit whenever I'm lucky enough to be in these destinations. First up is Paris, and London and New York will follow in the next few days. I hope you enjoy! And do let me know of your favourite places too. I'd love to start a regular post on readers' picks!


Fodor's describes this early Baroque gem as "one of the city's loveliest hôtels particuliers", and I'd have to agree. Hôtel de Sully, on the Rue Saint-Antoine in the Marais (just near the Place des Vosges), is truly one of the city's best-kept secrets, and perhaps that's a good thing. Less people to obscure the glorious garden views. The classical formal gardens are a delight on a sunny day (or even a winter's one): quiet, free from Marais noise and traffic and with just enough people-watching to keep things interesting. I always detour through here on my way to the Place des Vosges. Rue Saint-Antoine, 4th.

Hotels open up in Paris faster than you can say "one Ladurée macaron, please", and it's always a challenge finding a decent, neat, semi-stylish and – more importantly – justifiably affordable one to stay in. (A hotel is ideal for anything less than 5 nights in Paris; more than that and it's best to hire an apartment.) But one – Le Senat – never disappoints. It's slightly more than I can afford but it's worth it. The position – right next to the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th – is perfect, the breakfast room, bar and courtyard (above) are all charming without being pompous or twee, the balconied views of rooftops and Parisians in the street below are pure theatre, and the crisp, witty, monochrome rooms are the kind you emulate at home. Best of all, it offers baths – that rare Parisian treat! Big, luxurious, marble bath tubs. Just perfect after a day traipsing around the rues. 10 Rue de Vaugirard, 6th.

Forgive me if I've mentioned this hotel before: I'm utterly in love with it. So, too, is Armani: he books it out for his staff each Fashion Week. Formally known as the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan's Hotel, its fans just call it the Trocadero. (Well, who can remember the rest?) It's a gem of a place; a sweet boutique hotel with a beautiful, neo-classical decor. Rooms feature gorgeous Parisian beds, fab antiques and classic Parisian views, the elevator is lined with Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, and the Champagne Bar only serves – wait for it – Champagne! I would book it for my honeymoon but my partner hates Paris. Yes, I know. I'll just have to go alone. 117 Rue Lauriston, 16th.

Many Parisian regulars – including the jaded foodies who've seen it all – view the turn-of-the-century bistro known as Le Bistrot du Peintre ("The Painter's Bistro") as one of the most beautiful Belle Epoque dining spots in the city. It's out of the way, but boy, is it worth the walk. I adore coming here. Venturing into the 1902 Art Nouveau bar is like stepping back in time. Just entrancing. 116 Avenue Ledru Rollin,  11th.

Karl Lagerfeld's bookstore is a little like the man himself: insightful, intelligent, full of wit, humour and surprises, and incredibly difficult to find. It stocks all the latest and greatest fashion, photographic, architecture, style and art releases, plus a few unexpected titles – many of them approved by the big man. Lagerfeld's studio is nearby, so if you're lucky you might see him wandering the streets – he often pops into bookstores nearby to assess their stock picks! 7 Rue Lille, 7th. 

Most Parisians (and a great many insightful foreigners) are well aware of Odorante florist, that sublime gallery of floral glamour in the 6th arrondissement. But few know of L'Epicerie, which is just up the road. The original L'Epicerie was a gourmet deli (and is still across the road), which offered (and still does) all sorts of delicacies for the perfect picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens. Well, now its little sister, a just-as-exquisite florist shop, offers you Parisian-pretty bouquets to take home and dress your hotel room. L’épicerie des Saints Pères, 23 Rue des Saint Pères, 6th.

Lots of people head off early on a Saturday or Sunday to the famous Clignancourt markets to find themselves a French bargain. They get there, amid the tourist masses, shuffle down one or two alleys full of kitschy stuff, fight for breath in the stalls, and then get the train home again, exhausted and wondering what all the fuss was about. Well, let me guide you. Don't go to the flea markets without a proper plan (and a map). Or just go to Paul Bert. The Paul Bert and Serpette markets are two of the best in this enormous and exhausting place, with quality antiques and pieces that are ahead of, or in line with, the global trends. Vernaison is another that's popular but I prefer Paul Bert. Fabulous for seeing what's going to be in vintage/antique fashion in the months to come. 96 Rue des Rosiers and 18 Rue Paul Bert.


  1. Exactly how you blog.

    Pics/words with many layers.

    Unexpected, delightful layers.

    Oddly, easy to trust.

    A weird experience with social media, trust.

    First did Paris with my parents in 1976. Great initiation.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  2. Can't write much as I'm sobbing reading this post. If ever there was a time I need to call in all the money the kids owe me & use it for frivolous means it's NOW!!!!
    Millie xx

  3. Thank you lovely ladies. And I love the new head shot Millie. Especially the light coming from behind. Make you look like a goddess, really! Janelle x

  4. You should visit Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, on the Left Bank opposite Notre Dame. Not as elegant as your usual Paris, not even especially French, but one man's quirky tribute to the City of Lights. What an institution!

  5. Yes, I've been to Shakespeare and Company - many, many times - and love it. The upstairs level is particularly atmospheric, with the postcards from all the old authors. And some of those who have worked here have gone onto amazing things - Geoffrey Rush, for example.

  6. I had my pic taken with Karl in a book shop in Paris last year!

  7. How amazing Tabitha! Was he a gentleman? I heard through a friend that Karl bought a copy of my 'Design in Black and White' book for his collection (I also saw it in his store). I was so thrilled - until I saw his ENORMOUS library and realised he'd probably never read it!!


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

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